Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Doctor fixes elephants maimed by mines

An elephant is outfitted with a giant harness that holds a prosthetic leg in place.

I've done quite a few stories about landmine victims, but as tragic and upsetting as they are, they've all had one common thread: the victims have been human. However, this last week, we've uncovered a new dimension to the horror of landmines: elephants. These lumbering, gentle animals are occasionally terribly disfigured when their huge feet detonate hidden explosives.

We've been filming on Thailand's northern border with Myanmar, formerly Burma. The area is littered with landmines left by the military government of Myanmar as it attempts to suppress ethnic Karen rebels. Elephant owners, aka mahouts, often stray deep into this treacherous jungle to find work hauling lumber.

Motala, an elephant, is a typical victim: 46 years old and now missing her front left foot. She arrived on the back of a truck at a hospital run by Dr. Preecha Puangkham. He's received 12 elephants injured by landmines in the last 9 years, which is nowhere near the number of humans that are maimed or even killed, but it's a reminder of just how indiscriminate these weapons are. They can't distinguish between civilian and soldier or even between human and animal. What's tragic for the elephants is that once injured by a landmine, their mahout often just shoots it dead, as the animal is no longer able to work.

Motala is being fitted with an innovative prosthetic leg made from canvas stuffed with saw-dust, attached with ropes. It sounds crazy, but it works. Poor old Motala is wary of putting her full weight on her stump. Perhaps one day she will be able to walk normally, using her man-made limb. (Watch an elephant get a prosthetic leg)

There was one sight at the hospital that was even more upsetting though: a baby elephant called Mocha, also missing a foot. She too had stood on a landmine. She too was now being treated at this elephant hospital. Inquisitive, skittish and adorable, she was no taller than my shoulders. A more delightful and playful creature it would be difficult to imagine. Yet Mocha, like Motala, had become a victim to Southeast Asia's awful landmine legacy.
Posted By Dan Rivers, CNN International Correspondent: 11:52 AM ET
  19 Comments
Dan,
I don't understand why the military would leave these landmines out for anyone or anything to step on them. It seems to me that they could come up with a different way to deal with the Karen rebels. That won't harm innocent people or animals. My guess they just don't care!

I'm glad that there is a place that these animals can be taken for help. And that the owners don't have to kill them. I've never heard of a prosthetic for an elephant! But it is great that they are able to make these so the elephants can have a somewhat normal life.

Stay Safe...keep away from the minefields!
Posted By Anonymous Cynthia, Covington, Ga. : 12:11 PM ET
How very sad that elephants and wildlife have to live like this while people try and destroy each other. Mines should have never been invented.
Posted By Anonymous Nicki, Calgary, Alberta : 12:24 PM ET
Hi Dan,
Thanks for the post on Motala and Mocha. In every tragedy, there are people who work to make sure they do all they can to keep hope alive. Sometimes, I think we forget that. It's what makes us remember, we are all in this world together, along with the good, bad and sometimes very ugly facts of life. Take Care
Posted By Anonymous Lorie Ann, Buellton, Calif. : 12:47 PM ET
Any bets that this will be led in by "dancing with the stars" ? :-)

Keep up the great work you guys it's been facinating to watch. thanks again for reruning the story on Thomas Roberts. It was as powerful this time as it was last time.

tell us the truth...AC was playing with the puppies last night right!
Posted By Anonymous Marcy, Mobile, AL : 12:51 PM ET
It was very traumatic for me to see the injured elephants on CNN.
Posted By Anonymous Abhijit, Leamington Spa, WA : 12:54 PM ET
Hey...just wondering...Do you'll ever sleep!! LOL You are posting and it's about 9:00 pm there and Anderson posted when it was about 1:00 in the morning. What's up with that!? You'll need to get some rest.

GO TO BED!! All of you! Don't make me come over there! ;-)
Posted By Anonymous Cynthia, Covington, Ga. : 1:10 PM ET
Great work I am glad you've decided to help the elephants instead of killing them. Thanks for being human.

-A
Posted By Anonymous Ann, LA, CA : 1:28 PM ET
Bless this man and his work.
Posted By Anonymous liz, Montgomery, AL : 1:54 PM ET
Dan:

What a touching report on such a wonderful creature! It's sad that young Mocha will have to live the rest of her life in the hospital but kudos to the team over there working on giving the injured elephants some form of "life" by providing a prosthetic foot. I'm not sure I liked seeing the elephants being used for tourist attractions, though. Your report reminds me of the injured Panda, Niu Niu, from northern China that lost her front leg in a fight. Veterinarians were recently asking for help in designing a new leg for her so that she could return to the wild. So.....perhaps there is hope for young Mocha too!

As far as landmines go, I haven't heard much about that topic since Princess Diana died. So what is the status on banning landmines globally? Has Burma sign the treaty?
Posted By Anonymous Jolene, St. Joseph, MI : 2:02 PM ET
Mocha is the cutest thing I have seen in a long time and although marred Mocha has the biggest personality and obvisly loves the camera......thank you for your report Dan, it is such a very sad story but bringing light to it always is a step in a better direction.

As for Anderson and the crew.....everyone is right.....get some sleep while you can, we don't want you to drop like flies from exhaustion. Keep up the great work and stay safe.

Megan
Posted By Anonymous Megan O. Toronto, ON, Canada : 2:08 PM ET
To Dan:

Thanks for the interesting thought and just think, I was complaining this morning waiting for the air conditioning man to show up at my office. It's 80 degrees here. It really makes all my concerns rather trivial to say the least.

To Neil:

Well, I don't know what to say about that hidden camera spot on last night's show. I just thought, "Oh, Corwin, don't go there and show Neil's skin on 360." Then again, Neil, you may end up with your own flood of
e-mails now from all your 360 fans! Just so you know, I am kidding!
Posted By Anonymous Renee Bradenton, FL : 2:11 PM ET
I'm so glad that 360 is doing more on the cruelty of Burmese government. They really need to be exposed to the world about what's going on there and how things really are.
When I left Burma ten years ago, I had no idea how bad things really were. Now, things are even worse. No running water available anymore, don't get electricity 24/7 anymore and things went down hill so badly since then and they continue to go bad in every aspect. I guess I had a pretty sheltered life there with not a lot of information available about things. We only had 2 TV stations available and both are still controlled by the military government. So we only saw what they wanted us to see. No internet service available for regular household either, so there's no way one can get information online or anywhere else.
Since no reporters are legally allowed in Burma, not many people want to bother reporting anything about it at all. I guess the situations are not really "an immediate threat" to others.
Anyway, thanks so much.
Posted By Anonymous May L, F'dale, N.Y. : 2:21 PM ET
It is horrible,tragic, and terrifing that animals get injured by these landmines. But does the government over there consider the human lives that can be hurt or killed by those horrible things going off. Why can't the government do something to get rid of them, before more tragities happen? Be careful over there.
Posted By Anonymous Maureen Olsen, Apple Valley, California : 2:32 PM ET
Dan ,

Great work you do , I'ts clear you love animals, what is the prognosis on these highly inteligent elephants? biologists know and understand that their social stucture is very complex, I'm hoping the outcome for these precious creatures is a good one , it appears everything that could be done , is being done inspite of their loss , many viewers will want an update on their struggle.

Maritza
Posted By Anonymous Maritza Munoz San Jose Ca : 2:45 PM ET
Thank you for bringing to light, the plight of animals due to landmines. In general, the plight of animals due to war/land mines has never been well documented or focused upon.

One question, do you think the mahout simply shoots the injured animals because 'the animals are no longer able to work'. I think it goes beyond that. These animals are in a region where humans struggle to find medical care; so, how would the mahout possibly find or afford to take care of the injured animal. Isn't the mahout essentially putting the animal out of his despair by shooting him? How would it be possible for an improvished mahout to care for the injured animal or for the injured animal to fend for itself in the jungle?
Posted By Anonymous Sherali, Allentown PA : 3:00 PM ET
Dan/AC360:
What sweet, sweet animals...both Motala and Mocha are amazing creatures. The trauma of what they have gone through is so heart-breaking. It is also sad that Mocha will be living in a hospital for the rest of her life.

I can only imagine how many landmines still exist in the jungle if there has been 50 years of fighting between the Myanmar and Karen rebels. If the advancement of technology i.e. bulldozers can save these gentle giants, maybe the mahouts will resort to the tourism concept you mentioned in the report.

On the other hand, it is uncomfortable seeing the elephants used as amusement rides and background for photo opps.

Thanks for the report.
Posted By Anonymous Sharon D., Indianapolis, IN, USA : 3:02 PM ET
This is just one more example of the good overcoming the bad. It's great to know that people still have the heart to help do something to fix the ugly things that are done in the name of war.
Posted By Anonymous Susan, Sierra Vista AZ : 3:23 PM ET
I read a similar article a few years ago in National Geographic (more focused on the street elephants of Thailand), and it broke my heart. I am very glad to see the elephant hospital is still functioning; thank you for continuing this story.
Posted By Anonymous Ashley, Baton Rouge, LA : 3:33 PM ET
That's so great that they are trying to help these wounded elephants. I hope more will hear of this facility and stop killing wounded ones. At least these wounds are accidental. They're not killing them for ivory-that is just cruel.
Posted By Anonymous Kathy Chicago,Il : 7:02 PM ET
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